CLIMATE CHANGE POLITICS

Why Kenya should create research institute for global warming

In working with Kenyans, I have discovered there is a huge potential in innovation

In Summary

• There is overwhelming evidence that the amount of warming coming our way is fearful and that if we do not take action to change our habits, there will be the biggest global catastrophe.

•  Sea levels have risen 3cm globally since 1950. The catch is that they are rising exponentially.

Heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in regions across the globe as warming continues
Heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in regions across the globe as warming continues
Image: FILE

Of course, global warming is happening. There are nay-sayers as there always are when there is something that disturbs the status quo.

Sadly they are wrong. There is overwhelming evidence that the amount of warming coming our way is fearful and that if we do not take action to change our habits, there will be the biggest global catastrophe since the dinosaurs were wiped out 68 million years ago and a large asteroid crashed into Earth and created what is now the Gulf of Mexico.

How long have we known about the problem? When I did my D.Phil. in the late 1960s, colleagues were working on the processes in the upper atmosphere. Not only did we know as graduate students but the funding agencies of the UK (and Commonwealth), and the US governments also knew and that is why the research was being paid for and done. US Vice President Al Gore was also a scientist at around the same time, which is why he produced “An Inconvenient Truth” 10 years ago.

What is the scenario now? Sea levels have risen 3cm globally since 1950. Sounds like don’t worry, hey? The catch is that they are rising exponentially. That means more than doubling every decade and in a do-nothing scenario by 2029, it will be over 6cm. By 2099 it will be 9 metres – enough to wipe out all of the world’s harbours and 20 per cent of the world’s land area where 30 per cent of the world’s population lives. Think about the wars and devastation in the second half of this century as it happens. Think about the economic misery of the people then alive. No trade, no food, no peace.

The global average temperature has risen already over the same period by 1.1 degrees centigrade and is currently rising at around 0.1 degrees every five years.

Again it doesn’t seem much. However, there is a factor called inertia that comes into play. Suppose we stop emitting carbon dioxide today from our many demands on fossil fuel. It will take 40-50 years for the temperature to fall back and the ice melt to revert. The more the temperature rises the longer that reversion will take. If we hit 2 degrees of rise, we are looking at 80 to 100 years to recover.

If we do nothing and we exceed 3.5 degrees of rise in the 2090s, it will not recover at all and we are looking at a probable outcome of the extermination of every lifeform by 2150 and global temperatures around 100 – 200 degrees higher than now. Since the latest science indicates an increasing likelihood that this planet is the only inhabited one in the universe that would be a shame.

So we have to take rapid action. We have until 2030 to have accomplished it so we can expect recovery before 2100. It really is like a war needing a country’s entire resources turned over to it, but this one is on ourselves.

However, there is good news.

We live in a country that straddles the equator. The latest release of figures from the Kenyan government says that over 90 per cent of our electricity is now produced by geothermal, hydroelectric and wind energy. Wonderful!

In working with Kenyans, I have discovered there is a huge potential in innovation that is largely not being used or is being deliberately misdirected towards the things this country is bad at. (Don’t forget that Kenya is a leader in computer programming and Kenyans are in top positions directing computer programming research in the US).

So we have a country on the equator with lots of sunshine. We have considerable experience of hydroelectric power and geothermal power and now wind energy to sell to other countries. We have people who are innovative. That gives Kenya a huge opportunity as it moves from the “third world” into the “second world”.

Why don’t we direct resources to mainstream solar and renewable energy technology? Not little people doing little but imaginative things but big people with resources doing really amazing things and making solar systems that are affordable for the worldwide wananchi by making them large scale?

Why not research how to solve problems like how to have different technology to achieve air conditioning? The research journals of the world contain many ideas people are not exploiting.

Why not find and exploit technology to eliminate batteries, for just one example to use capacitors instead? Our friends in China have already got products that could be used as a starting point. Buy a Tesla car and you will spend 25-30 per cent of the capital value every 5-10 years to replace the batteries.

MIT has developed a system with Lamborghini that has electrical energy storage for the life of the car. 0-100mph in 7 seconds; 250mile range. No reason not to use that technology on your car or mine with a much lower performance that will run from Nairobi to Mombasa and back at 60 mph on one charge.

Why not design ways to harvest water from the air on a large scale?

And so on and so on.

Nobody at present thinks big enough. We want a return on investment in two to three years. Therefore, nobody invests in an institute to create new technology that will give even faster returns.

There is a tremendous financial resource if this is funded regionally. International funders have a need for the answers but don’t live where there is abundant solar energy to do the spadework. Why in Kenya? This is where the UN is. This is where the brains are. This is where the entrepreneurs are.

Let’s create a research and development institute and exploit the ideas with world-class products.

© Dr.Michael Fairhead